Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Running My First Half-Marathon

Running in a long distance race is something I wanted to try for some time. I figured I was not getting any younger so I signed up for the 2013 Portland Half-Marathon. Originally, I was interested in running either the Half or Full Marathon in 2012. I attended a Team in Training event at a local pub (I live in Portland, OR after all) in the spring of 2012. I was motivated by the presentation to run except I was not enthused about having to raise $1,500 in order to get free training and have my entry fee paid. I didn't like the idea of hitting people up for money so I could run in a race. Yes, the money goes to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society which is a reputable organization but something just didn't feel right to me about it. If I didn't reach my fund raising goal then I would be on the hook for the difference. I was also technically unemployed at the time. It had only been a few months since we moved to Portland. The only income I had was working as an extra on the TV show Grimm that is filmed here in Portland. ...Fast forward on to early November of 2012 when I received an email promoting the Portland Marathon. I thought long and hard about signing up for the Full Marathon but considering that the only running event that I had done prior to registering was one 5 K the previous July I eventually decided to go with the Half-Marathon.

Hawthorne Bridge where I started & finished many of my training runs
I will not go blow by blow covering the last year of training but I will go over some of the things that worked well and didn't go well. Hopefully, someone who is thinking about running can learn from my experiences.  I didn't actually train for the whole year but I stayed in shape until the training began in late July. Before training started my normal exercise routine included riding my bike to work 5 days a week (most weeks - 3.5 miles one way), participating in my H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) exercise  class at work twice a week, and then running (no longer than 3-4 miles) or lifting weights on alternate days. I was working out usually 6 days a week. When I started training for the Half-Marathon I actually worked out fewer days per week since I ran just 4 days a week. It was nice building in the rest days. I plan on incorporating more rest days as part of my exercise plan post half-marathon.

This little fella snuck up on me one morning while I was stretching after a run.
Before I get into my list of what went well what didn't including some observations about the race I'll start off with some numbers being the analytical nerd I can be at times.

Half-Marathon by the numbers (I kept a log  of my training and expenses which I recommend):
  • I started training on 7/29 with the race day being on 10/6.
  • In 10 weeks of training I ran 182 miles.
  • The average temperature when I ran was 60 degrees. I usually started at 6:30 am. 
  • The hottest temperature I ran in was 78 degrees on August 17th. I ran at 2 pm in the afternoon on a Saturday. Alethea and I were out late the night before :-).
  • The coldest temperature I ran in was 47 degrees on 9/19 and on 10/6 the day of the event.
  • I participated in 9 Yoga classes at work spread throughout the training which really helped.
  • Only ran indoors twice on a treadmill due to weather (8/29 and 9/30). I did get rained on during runs but on these two days it was pouring or lightening during the time I could run so I ran indoors at the on site company gym.
  • Total amount of money spent was $315.47. This included entry fee, shoes, socks, hydration belt, Muscle Milk, Ultima Replenisher, and a reflective running vest. 
  • Results: I finished in 2:06:34. I placed 617 out of 2,406 Half Marathon participants. I was 317 out of 734 men who entered. In my age group of 35-39 males I was 63 out of 113. My pace was 9:40 per mile. There were also 6,947 Full Marathon participants running at the same time.

Next I will list out what worked and what didn't work. I'll focus more on the training here. I'll highlight the actual race later on.

What worked?
  • Hydration Belt. This thing worked very well during long runs. I only wore it on runs that were going to be more than a hour in duration.
  • Sticking to a training schedule. I did a lot of research before starting my training. Alethea checked out some library books and I made notes from multiple sources before started. I ended up going with a running plan from Marathon Rookie ( Only time I deviated from the schedule was when I ran a 5 K a couple weeks in to my training on a Sunday following a long run day. I then took off two days in a row instead of one. I still ended up running the amount of miles I was scheduled to run for that week. 
  • Experimentation. Once I started training I experimented quite often with little things like diet, clothes, shoes, iPhone Apps, music, stretches, etc. I would try slightly different things as I went along because one key thing I read over and over was the statement nothing new on race day!
  • Nothing new on race day. I adhered to this principle and I know that it helped. I almost switched running apps the day of the race because Run Keeper didn't have a way to set it to run a half marathon but the Nike app did. I didn't want a technical malfunction so I stuck with the Run Keeper app. The app turned out to be off by over a half mile. I had read they were usually off by a percent or two. It said I was done 8 tenths of a mile before the race was over.
  • Long runs. Yeah, I know this is part of the training program but these are what I enjoyed the most. I think it was probably because these were not on work days. On most long runs I had routes to myself and could just relax, listen to music or a podcast, and just run. I even decided to skip going to watch my alma mater (Tennessee) play Oregon in football on 9/14 because I wanted to get in my 12 mile long run versus altering my schedule to watch Tennessee get whipped while spending a few hundred dollars for the privilege of doing so.
  • Alternating between running shoes. When I bought my running shoes at Fit Right NW the salesperson mention doing this. I thought it was a gimmick to sell more shoes but it actually worked and helped me break in a new pair while using shoes I was already used to.

What didn't work?
  • Having a significant bike wreck  four weeks before I started training. I had a nasty spill on 7/3 while riding my bike on the way to purchase new running shoes of all things. I hit some unused rail tracks at the wrong angle in NW Portland and ended up on the pavement. I developed a nasty bruise on my hip and rear end. I was still in pain on 7/29 when I started training. I even occasionally felt the bruise in my rear on some of my long runs toward the end of my training.
  • Nipple Chaffing. I experienced nipple chaffing for the first time. I purchased some Body Glide  and began to use it. It definitely worked. 
  • Underestimated how long it would take me to complete the half-marathon when I signed up. During registration I put down it would take 3 hours to complete the run. I therefor was put in the slowest corral for runners. Only the walkers were behind me. I pretty much passed runners who planned to run at a slower pace for most of the first 10 miles. I had no idea when I registered what I would run. Once I started doing long runs I realized I was doing much better than I had anticipated. Keep in mind I am a complete novice. I also didn't learn until after it was too late that I could have adjusted my corral assignment until August 1st. In the future I plan on being more realistic with my times now that I have a baseline.
  • Weather. The weather cooperated a great deal and I think I picked a good time of year to train and run. However, I got rained on at least 4 times when the hourly forecast said 0% chance of rain. Only twice did I absolutely get soaked. My iPhone was drenched on one of those runs but it didn't damage it. I  wore my water proof arm band on long runs from that point on. 
  • Giving blood 5 weeks into training. I donated blood at work on an off day for training and ended up passing out. I later learned during a biometric screening at work that since my pulse was so low (it was 53 when measured….60 is actually considered low) this makes me more likely to have issues.
  • Violating the nothing new on race day principle by trying to run much faster during the final mile of the race. I'll go into details later for this one.

The Half-Marathon
All in all race day went remarkably well. It was actually somewhat anti-climatic. Physically, I felt fine. My training had me reducing mileage starting two weeks out from race day. The last week of training had me going on short 3 mile runs, a  2 mile walk, and some extra rest days leading up to the race. On the morning of the event I got up at 4:30 am  and ate a bowl of yogurt and granola along with two 8 oz servings of Muscle Milk. I had plenty of time for this to settle on my stomach before leaving at 6 am. Alethea drove me down to the base of the Hawthorne Bridge on the east side. I climbed up the stairs and then jogged a little over half a mile to the corral area. I spent several minutes performing the normal stretches that I do and even did some extra jogging. I walked over to my corral area for slow runners :-). I then proceeded to take off my hooded sweatshirt and place it in the clothing check bag and dropped it off in the UPS delivery van for my area. I then got in line for the porta potties. The line was actually quite long. I waited 10 minutes in line. I then discovered a coffee shop within our corral area that was open so I went inside to stay warm since it was another 10 minutes before the scheduled start. It was surprisingly cool. I probably should have worn my thin liner gloves but decided not too.

Looking toward the East Side of the Willamette River about 45 minutes before the race - Can you spot Mt. Hood?
Now for the race itself. A couple minutes before the 7 am start time we all sang the national anthem which was pretty neat. This new tradition started within the last couple years when the scheduled singer didn't  show. The announcer got on the microphone and had the crowd sing it instead. After the national anthem the corrals started to release. I was back in corral F. It took a little over 17 minutes to actually start the race from the time the first corral started. It was very crowded. There were 9,000 combined Full and; Half-Marathon participants.  Once I got up to the start line which wasn't exactly marked as well as I thought I hit start on my iPhone Run Keeper app and started to run. Oddly enough a lot of people were walking at the start. I don't think they knew they had passed the start line for a couple blocks at least. After that it was just running.

The starting line for both the Full and Half-Marathon is under the blue banner
Now that the running actually started I just relaxed and ran. It was so noisy at first with all the cheering, bands, and other groups I actually couldn't hear my music or the pace I was running from my phone. The first funny thing I saw was that people were lined up to use the porta potties only a mile into the race. I guess they weren't able to go before due to the long lines. I shouldn't be too critical of the people using the porta potties. One minor mistake I made was hydrating a little too much. I stopped to get water at the first two aid stations even though they were before I would normally drink during my long runs. This eventually caught up with me. Between miles  8 and 9 I actually had to pee which never happened during my training runs. I stopped and very quickly visited a porta potty that didn't have a line. Many of the porta potties had lines throughout the race.

Now that I was properly relieved it was nothing but more running to the finish line. I did see or experiencing a few interesting things before the end of the race. I was running behind a woman around mile 9 who pulled over to the side and started throwing up. A little bit after that I came across a bunch of people dressed up as pirates singing pirate songs. I even got a high five from one of the pirates. One other amusing thing I saw was that at one of the aid stations the volunteers had sticks with Vaseline on them. You are supposed to scoop some of the Vaseline off and rub it on you were you might be chaffing. A woman right in front of me scooped up some Vaseline and proceeded to lick it off her finger before quickly realizing it wasn't an energy gel as she probably thought it was. The guy running next to her started laughing and made fun of her for learning a lesson of not trying something new during race day!

The only thing bad thing that happened was started on mile 12.  I had the bright idea of trying to run as fast I could until I finished. I was feeling great and figured since I had only 1.11 miles to go after several weeks of training why not leave anything in the tank? Within a few hundred meters I was already feeling a little out of gas so I backed off a little bit but not too much. I ended up crossing the finish line with no issues. Unfortunately, starting the next day my quads became really tight despite all the stretching I did after the race and throughout the remainder of the day. This is what I get for doing something new on race day. I didn't experience any injuries including tightness in my quads during my training. I didn't even get so much as a blister.

The last half mile of the race involved a few twists and turns to the finish line and the next thing you know I had completed the race. I was so relieved and excited. Immediately, within a few steps after crossing the finish line the volunteers put a space blanket around me and put my finishers medal around my neck and pointed me over to the recovery area. I had done it! I then proceeded to start my recovery with some chocolate milk,  Ultima Replenisher,  bananas, and oranges in addition to some stretching. They even had some Reece's Cups as snacks too! I only ate one :-). I picked up my finishers t-shirt and met Alethea outside of the secured area at the reunion spot.

Me after completing my 1st Half-Marathon

After thinking about this for over a year, working out regularly throughout the winter and spring, and 10 weeks of formal training I was done! I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I thoroughly enjoyed the process. It was a lot of hard work but worth it. The next morning after it was over I felt like I did when I finished graduate school. I  now had a bunch of time on my hand but no definite firm goal to pursue.

What I learned
I can say what I learned was really something I knew all along. I reinforced the notion that if you set a specific goal, make a plan, jump in and start doing something while learning along the way then you can accomplish just about anything. I plan to build off this and use this to achieve goals in other areas of my life. 

My finisher medal for the Half-Marathon
What's next or will I run a full marathon?
What's next for me is some rest and recovery. I've spent the week after the half-marathon sleeping in and taking it easy. I rode the bus to work the first day back to work after the half-marathon due to how tight my quads were. I am back on my bike now which I think has helped. I'm already researching Full-Marathons to run in. I definitely think I can do it although I know it will not be easy. I am researching ones in scenic places like Hawaii, New Zealand, and Europe. I'm also looking at the Rock 'n' Roll in Nashville. More than likely I'll probably go with the Portland Full-Marathon. Portland is my home turf plus it helps that I am familiar with at least half of the course :-). 

Alethea's reward to me for finishing the Half-Marathon
Before I conclude I would like to say a special thanks to my wife Alethea for being there during my training. I am grateful for her support and understanding especially since we moved half way through my training. Alethea writes about her new job and our new housing situation in this blog post which can be found here. I am also so glad she let me use one of her massage gift certificates the day after the race. I went to the North Portland Wellness Center for a 60 minute Swedish Deep Tissue Massage that felt great.

That's all for now. Hope everyone is doing well. Let me know if you have any questions or comments related to this post about my first half-marathon.